Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Book Review - "The Minefield" by Greg Lockhart


Today’s book review is The Minefield by Greg Lockhart.

Essentially, it’s the story of the barrier minefield laid under the direction of Brigadier Stuart Graham in 1967 in Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam.

These mines were dug up by the Viet Cong, and used against Australian and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers, resulting in hundreds of casualties between 1967 and 1971. I served in 7RAR in 1970, and the narrative has strong interest for me as a result. It’s as well I didn’t know the history back then, or my experience may have been riddled with more anxiety than it was in actuality. The events don’t lead to confidence in the commanders at the time. In this case, ignorance, if not bliss, was a blessing.

The book is well researched and contains many statistical tables which provide an insight into the dimensions of the problem which confronted the soldiers and commanders post 1967, once the VC began to move the mines in earnest. The laying of the barrier field was a very good example of a novel solution to a problem which was well and truly let down in the execution.

Lockhart makes many attempts to get into Brigadier Graham’s mind, but is not entirely successful. In fact, I’d suggest that these attempts become repetitious, and tend to obstruct the narrative somewhat. He makes good use of Vietnamese accounts, and perhaps a little more of this content, and a little less of an analysis of Graham’s motives may have improved the flow of the narrative.

Nevertheless, it’s a strong account and probably would have held my attention even without my personal interest in the story. It’s also a very good argument against the use of anti-personnel mines.

The real story, however, is the disconnect between the military mind and the political reality in relation to the inhabitants of Phuoc Tuy province at the time. This disconnect seems to continue today, in terms of recent experience in counter-insurgency conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lockhart describes this disconnect well, and provides an historical context for the assumed wisdom of the day. It also reveals that the Australian government back then had only a vague idea of the realities of the war on the ground.

Funny that – as an infantry soldier at the time, I formed much the same opinion!

Friday, 21 December 2007

GW's Utopia


The following appears in today's Australian On-line -

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22955649-2703,00.html


'Gang-raped by contractors'

A TEXAN woman who claims to have been raped by American contractors in Iraq testified in Congress yesterday, telling legislators she was kept under armed guard in her trailer after reporting the incident.

Jamie Leigh Jones, 23, said she was gang-raped inside Baghdad's Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has contracts with the US military.

Ms Jones said she knew of at least 11 other women who were raped by US contractors in Iraq.

"This problem goes way beyond just me," she told the House of Representatives subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

Ms Jones said that on her fourth day in Baghdad, some co-workers, whom she described as Halliburton-KBR firefighters, invited her for a drink.

"I took two sips from the drink and don't remember anything after that," she said.

The next morning she woke groggy and confused and with a sore chest and blood between her legs. She reported the incident to KBR and was examined by an army doctor, who confirmed she had been repeatedly raped vaginally and anally. The doctor took photographs and made notes and handed all the evidence over to KBR personnel.

"The KBR security then took me to a trailer and locked me in a room with two armed guards outside my door," Ms Jones testified. "I was imprisoned in the trailer for approximately a day. One of the guards finally had mercy and let me use a phone."

Ms Jones called her father in Texas, who called his representative in Congress, Republican Ted Poe, who contacted the State Department, which quickly sent personnel to rescue Ms Jones and fly her back to Texas.

"Iraq is reminiscent of the Old Western days and no one seems to be in charge," Mr Poe told the subcommittee. "The law must intervene, and these outlaws need to be rounded up and order restored."

Ms Jones said the rape was so brutal she was still undergoing reconstructive surgery. She tried to get her case resolved first through KBR channels, then through the Justice Department. When neither course seemed to work, she gave an interview to US television network ABC.

KBR has been silent on the matter, although the ABC said the company circulated a memo among employees signed by president and CEO Bill Utt saying it "disputes portions of Ms Jamie Leigh Jones' version and facts".

Ms Jones's KBR contract included a clause that prevents her from suing her employer, Mr Poe said. That would likely force her into arbitration, which he described as "a privatised justice system with no public record, no discovery and no meaningful appeal".

There are many laws that the Justice Department "can enforce with respect to contractors who commit crimes abroad, but it chooses not to," Democrat committee member Robert Scott said.

Fellow Democrat John Conyers said the incident showed "how far out of control the law enforcement system in Iraq is today".

There are 180,000 civilian contractor employees in Iraq, including more than 21,000 Americans.

So this is the model democracy being created in Iraq. Given the moral quality of both the incursion and the civilian contractors, it's not surprising. By their works you will know them.



Wednesday, 19 December 2007

No Comment Necessary









This was posted on ABC - Just In, today -


http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/19/2123199.htm?section=justin

Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson says the Coalition has dropped its WorkChoices policy.

Dr Nelson says the Coalition was damaged at the election by its industrial relations policies and he has officially declared WorkChoices dead.

"We have listened and we have learned, and one of the issues that was very important to the Australian people in changing the Government on November 24 was that of WorkChoices," he said.

"We've listened to the Australian people, we respect the decisions they have made, and WorkChoices is dead."

He has called on the Government to move quickly to introduce its draft industrial relations legislation.

But the Opposition will not commit to supporting changes to industrial relations policies until the Labor Government makes its intentions clear.

Dr Nelson says there should be an independent assessment of the impact of unfair dismissal laws on business before any changes are made.


No comment is necessary.

Remains of Vietnam vet return to Melbourne






This story was posted on the ABC’s website today.


http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/19/2122370.htm?section=justin
The remains of an Australian medic killed in Vietnam 36 years ago, will be returned to Melbourne this morning.

Family and friends of Lance Corporal John Gillespie will attend the military ceremony at the Point Cook Air Base.

The 24-year-old medic was killed in 1971, when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in the Minh Dam Mountains.

His remains were discovered in an excavation of the crash site.

The veterans' group, Operation Aussies Home have been working to bring the soldier home.

His widow, Carmel Hendrie and daughter, Fiona Pike were at Hanoi International Airport on Monday to watch soldiers carry his casket to a waiting RAAF Hercules aircraft.

The plane arrives in Melbourne this morning.

It’s gratifying that Corporal Gillespie’s remains have been repatriated, and I hope that this action helps his family. The work done by Operation Aussies Home is outstanding.

I know the Minh Dam Mountains as the Long Hais and was in the area near this incident on 28th February 2006 with a group of veterans. This was the anniversary of the loss of eight diggers from 8 RAR in 1970. We acknowledged this with a simple ceremony. Whilst my unit was 7RAR, there were some blokes from 8RAR in the group, and the commemoration meant a lot to them. My sons were with me, and they were given the honour of reading the service. We left poppies for remembrance.

As time goes on, the recognition owed to those who died in Vietnam is improving. It’s a far cry from the situation in the early seventies, when I hid the fact that I was a veteran after some pretty sad episodes. I trust that John Gillespie’s homecoming will be more honoured than many surviving comrades received in the early seventies.

He deserves nothing less.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Apathy and Tragedy


Today’s featured column comes from the Sunday Mail, and is written by Mal Brough.
I don’t always agree with him, but on this issue, he hits the nail on the head.

I worked in communities like Aurukun for a while in the nineties, and have a basic understanding of the conditions these kids are growing up in. The situation is completely disgraceful, but not as disgraceful as the behaviour of the majority of Australians who couldn’t give a proverbial.

What’s to be done? How about a form of compulsory service for all twenty year olds – men and women – to be spent on designated communities enhancing the quality of life of the residents? It was OK thirty-five years ago to keep an obscure Asian nation free of the grasp of Communism. What’s wrong with dealing with a tragedy on our own soil that is happening now, rather than trying to prevent something that might occur in the future?

I cannot accept for one minute that any reasonable person reading this today would accept the scenes I have described here to occur in their community, let alone tolerate the pack rape of a 10-year-old girl.

Ask yourself this: do you recall the public outrage at the crimes committed to this little girl two years ago? You won't, because there wasn't any.
We should all be ashamed that for whatever reason we either didn't hear about it due to media indifference or perhaps it was just too far away to really notice, or maybe it is just too hard for most of us to comprehend or deal with.

I have heard all the excuses and delaying tactics as to why immediate action isn't prudent — you must consult, communities must come up with their own solutions, the situation is somehow different in remote communities, or that cultural differences must be taken into account.

I visited Aurukun, in far north Queensland, as federal minister for indigenous affairs on only one occasion, as part of a tour of Cape communities to talk with locals about their situation and how we could work together. This was a planned visit with all the departmental arrangements put in place well before the allotted time. On arrival by charter aircraft, there was no visiting party to greet us, no transport, nothing.

It became abundantly clear that apathy was not in short supply at Aurukun. A meeting of the Community Council did not eventuate, as only one councillor arrived.
Here was the bright spot A young woman, who clearly had drive, was visibly upset by the behaviour and attitudes of the people of her town. Her description of the drinking and fighting was all too familiar only now, I thought, at least we have a person we can support and work with to improve the situation. However, when I asked for her contact details so the department could working with her, she abruptly informed us she wasn't staying in Aurukun any longer as it was not the sort of place she felt she could raise the child in her care.

I guess this simple experience says it all: a town seen as unsuitable to raise a child by a community leader of that very town. On this same visit, police explained how the grog runners arrange disturbances on one side of town to draw the police off while they deliver their cargo without police interference. The same police spoke of illegal card games that go on for more than 24 hours with thousands of dollars changing lands. Welfare money, provided by the taxpayer for food and clothing for the children, is being gambled away at great cost to these same children. Imagine for a moment two extended families, 100 or 200 people, squaring off in the main street of your suburb or town 'with sticks, stones and other assorted makeshift weaponry.

This is the situation in Aurukun. This is the environment that we are allowing these children to be raised in.

We are talking about the destruction of another generation and what is called for here is urgent, direct action that is measured by positive outcomes. This includes outcomes such as full school attendance, massive reduction in domestic violence, and the complete protection of children. It starts with law and order. The police in these communities generally work incredibly hard. They often know who the criminals are, but they simply don't have the resources to do what is necessary to protect those who need the most protection — the children. There is only one reason for this. The State Government does not have this as a high enough priority and we, the public, don't hold them to account for this lack of commitment.

Only when we stop thinking of these children as Aboriginal and start to think of them as Australian, only when we stop making excuses because of the
challenges of the remote localities, and only when we value every child's life equally will we see the necessary changes being made by government. The good news is that these crimes are preventable, these communities can function in an appropriate and safe manner and children can grow up feeling safe. It just takes an acknowledgement that the policies of the past have failed.

It is at this point that most people contend that you must form working groups, work up discussion papers, consult widely and gain broad support before taking action. If these crimes were committed in Brisbane, every resource would be brought to bear immediately and this is just what must happen here. Longer-term solutions are necessary but must not be used again to delay the sort of response that is urgently demanded.

His comment about the different value placed on the lives of the Aurukun kids is illuminating. Perhaps our kids could do something to help - even if they have to be conscripted to it. Let's put our most precious resource - our offspring - into a situation where they make a positive difference. At least there would be fewer casualties than there were forty years ago.


Thursday, 13 December 2007

Downsizing

I've just bought an ASUS Eee PC 701. Basically, it's a very small note book computer (225mm x 160mm x 25mm), about 1/3 the size and weight of a conventional laptop. It can be carried around like a book, and comes with a wallet to facilitate this.


It should be very useful in my traveling work, as it boots up in about 15 seconds, and will do most of what my current laptop will do. You wouldn't want to try gaming on it – but that's not an issue for me. It comes within inbuilt wi-fi and a camera, and runs Linux software.


Because I have a WD external hard drve, its basic memory is not a problem.


So far, it's proved entirely compatible with all my external hardware with the notable exception of my scanner/printer, which loads and thinks it's working, but fails to respond. I'm inclined to believe I've overlooked something simple, and will sort it eventually.


In the meantime, it's a cheap ($499) and portable solution to managing information on the move.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Adventures in the Blogosphere


Because I'm a Vietnam Veteran, and have witnessed the havoc that modern firearms can wreak, I have strong opinions about gun control. I've also served alongside Americans, and am familiar with their trigger-happy behaviour.
As you're probably aware, there are a large number of pro-gun sites lurking in the blogosphere, and occasionally I post my dissenting opinions on these. I understand that this is a free country and healthy debate about matters of security is important. There are other sites where I do the same, but the responses go nowhere near the extremes of hate, fear and vilification generated by dissenting opinions on the pro gun sites. They range from name calling through all manner of homophobic garbage to physical threats.
There's a lesson there somewhere. A forensic psychologist would have a field day with these people.
Most recently, I found my comments were accepted but altered to the point of absurdity, before I was finally banned from posting. Some of the material is posted below, with the italics indicating where my post was altered. The words in quotes were taken from previous posts.

"Arrogant old fools"
Yes, I'm old enough to have lived and learned. Be patient - it will happen. It's called "The getting of wisdom". Not that I have any--being pompous and condescending is a good substitute though.
Obviously name-calling is a handy substitute for logic and common sense, just as being a superior being allows me to totally ignore the evidence provided by a wide range of agencies.
"Foisted on us"
These laws aren't "foisted" - they're the policy of government democratically elected. The fact that it's democratically elected means it can never, ever be wrong or be captured by vociferous lobby groups. The "us" referred to is well in the minority in this country and minority groups can be safely ignored, unless of course they're gay or ethnic minorities.
Obviously, democracy is a concept not well understood by the gun lobby.
Democracy means the majority is always right and can therefore trample on the rights of free citizens at will.
If "gun laws are so much in advance of ours why are those of you who are Australian residents still here?
The "facts" you quote are something else entirely. The gun lobby long ago cornered the market in dodgy "research". I'd be perfectly happy to take the cited examples apart but since I know I'm absolutely right, that would be a wasted effort.
It won't be long before the legal system begins to develop a voice. A few successful class actions will change policy.
After Vietnam Veterans developed the Agent Orange action, which provides a model, it's only a matter of time. My personal experience of that process provides me with optimism, because I've never yet met a lawyer who didn't begin salivating at the words "class action".

And as of today we see another report -

"Four now confirmed dead in Colorado shootings" - and again and again and again............

God help America - home of the brave, land of the free - last haven of the lunatic.

The Plod Zapped


There's an interesting story in today's Toowoomba Chronicle. I was out Mitchell way a few weeks ago, but had a much less eventful drive.






Mitchell police survive electrifying ordeal


By Maree Butterworth
When Mitchell police Sergeant Craig Shepherd and Senior Constables Debbie Cousins and Glen Fletcher saw trees getting hit by lightning at Arrest Creek 5km south of Mitchell they knew they had to get out of there. Sergeant Shepherd began to drive along Mitchell-St George road and just as they were questioning whether cars could actually get hit by lightning, about 12.30am their question was answered.
“The lightning bolt hit the car aerial, which is about 10 foot high, a steel aerial. The whole car turned orange and sparks flew all around,” Sergeant Shepherd said. The officers had been checking floodwater levels after five storms. had recently passed through but never thought their patrol would be so eventful. It was like slow motion. “The windscreen cracked in two places where the aerial bent over and the aerial was melted into the windscreen”, he said.
“My hair stood up and I asked the others if it (my hair) was on fire. It was like something had grabbed the car. I’ve seen a lot of freaky things in my time but I’ve never seen that.”

Apart from the three officers’ skin feeling on edge, hair standing up and their ears ringing, they fortunately escaped virtually unharmed with an interesting tale to tell their colleagues. It was something you never saw in your life and I hope we never see again” he said.
The lightning bolt passed through the aerial of the four-wheel drive and into the engine bay which caused complete disruption of the vehicle’s electrical equipment. Because they were concerned about their safety and in an open area with lightning still around them they had to crawl back into town with the car lights and sirens uncontrollably blaring.
Concerned they would disturb the residents of Mitchell in the early hours of the morning they managed to disconnect the engine and the car described as “dead” was later towed away to Roma.

It's not reported as to whether any of the police involved now have super powers.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Some Election Stories


Voting at the recent election reminded me of the time I was a polling clerk at the historic 1972 federal poll. As a young teacher at the time, I often did this work, as it paid fairly well, and wasn’t difficult. At least, it wasn’t difficult at a conventional booth. I made the mistake of putting my name down for work at a booth operating in the then Greenslopes Military Hospital in Brisbane. The reason for choosing this booth is lost in the mists of time, but it may have something to do with discovering that an attractive teaching colleague of the opposite gender was also working at Greenslopes.

This was an interesting situation because amongst the more conventional tasks, I had to take a ballot box on wheels (a hospital trolley in fact) around the wards so the bedridden veterans could vote. As a new veteran myself in 1972, I felt eminently qualified.

My colleague and I, (with two scrutineers from the major parties who followed us around ensuring fair play) were at the bedside of one eighty year-old veteran who had lost the ability to speak as the result of a major stroke. His wife was by his side. She told us that he communicated by blinking once for “yes” and twice for “no”. With the agreement of the scrutineers, we began to work our way down the ballot paper, to establish his first preference vote. His wife said that he always voted Liberal, so we really didn’t need to check – but of course we did. He clearly blinked once when we got to the ALP candidate. His wife became very angry – insisting that we were making a mistake. We repeated the exercise, got the same result, and also got a firm two blinks when we indicated the Liberal candidate. The lady wasn’t happy, and went off muttering darkly about “bloody men who tell you one thing and do another”.

Apparently they had been married for nearly sixty years, and she had always thought he voted the same way as she did.

Later in the day, just before the poll closed, one very inebriated chap came in demanding to vote for Billy McMahon. After getting over the disappointment of being told that he couldn’t (wrong electorate), he took a ballot paper and staggered away in the general direction of the voting booth. In those days, they were solid wooden structures – not cardboard – which was fortunate, as he was falling all over the place and would have brought down a row of cardboard booths like a row of dominoes.

Before putting pencil to paper, he decided he needed to meet an urgent call of nature, and wandered off to the toilet. Someone had to make sure the whereabouts of the ballot paper was known, so he had to be followed, and being the youngest present, and the correct gender, I got the job.

When I arrived in the toilet, all I could see was a row of cubicles, two of which were occupied. I ascertained which was his, mainly by the sound of snoring emanating from the second cubicle on the right. I decided to wait – but five minutes later the booth closed, so I went out to ask my supervisor for advice as to the next step. I was told in no uncertain terms to retrieve the ballot paper. There was no suitable answer to the “how?” question.

In the end, I had to peer under the door, and could see the paper on the floor. I reached in and retrieved it, grateful that the task was simple. It was marked, so I put it in the box.

This bloke eventually woke up about two hours later when we were well and truly into the count, and wandered off into the night. I guess he got home safely.

Another voting story took place back in the late fifties, when my father was principal of the then two-teacher school in Carmila, central Queensland. (My mother was the assistant teacher). As such, dad was the polling clerk whenever there was an election, as the school was the local polling booth.

Just before Christmas one year, there was a Federal election. As people came in to vote, they would say first their surname, then the Christian name, and be crossed of the roll before taking the ballot paper. My dad was doing this part of the process when a middle aged woman, whom my father didn’t know, came in to vote.

“Name please,” said dad.

“Maher,” replied the voter.

“Christian names?” asked dad.

“Mary Christmas,” responded the woman.

“Oh, and a happy New Year to you and your family”, replied dad, a trifle confused, “but I need your name for the roll”.

“Are you a bit deaf, it’s Mary Christmas,” she answered.

The penny dropped, and dad located her name on the roll. It was indeed “Mary Christmas Maher”.

Apparently she had been born on 25th December, and her parents thought the name was entirely fitting.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Deja Vu




Stories about gun massacres in the US of innocent people going about their daily business are unfortunately almost run of the mill.
The latest tragedy in Nebraska follows a very sad and familiar pattern. What I find bizarre is the lack of response from the US authorities. It’s almost as if they’re in denial.
One of the elements of my army training that has stayed with me is the clear understanding of the lethality of modern weaponry, and the need for access to these things to be controlled.
Obviously, it’s not understood across the Pacific.
Today’s Australian editorial says it pretty well –
There was a morbid sense of deja vu about the murder of eight Christmas shoppers in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska, by a 19-year-old gunman who later killed himself. Robert Hawkins, who reportedly wrote in a suicide note that he wanted to “go out in style”, would no doubt be gratified by the global media coverage his gruesome crime received. Yet mass murder in the US has become horribly commonplace. The Virginia Tech massacre, the milk truck driver who murdered the Amish schoolgirls, the Minnesota high school massacre, the Columbine High School massacre, these are only the most gruesome cases that have made the headlines. In 2004, the most recent year for which figures are available on gun deaths in the US, there were 11,624 homicides and 16,750 suicides. The US has the highest rate of gun deaths in the developed world. In a 1994 comparative study of gun-related deaths in the 36 richest countries, the US came first with 14.24 deaths per 100,000 people compared with Australia which had only 2.65 gun deaths per 100,000.
The trouble is that guns are big business in the US. In the 20 years to 1996, the US manufactured more than 85 million firearms. So in spite of the fact that every two years more Americans are killed by guns than died in
the 10-year Vietnam War, the US Government remains the captive of the gun lobbies and refuses to increase gun regulation to protect its citizens. In contrast, in Australia, after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which Martin Bryant murdered 35 people and wounded 37 others, then prime minister John Howard co-ordinated uniform gun laws in which all states and territories banned or heavily restricted the legal ownership of self-loading rifles, self-loading shotguns and pump-action shotguns, implementing a buyback program that destroyed 700,000 guns. Since then, the risk of dying by gunshot has halved and there have been no mass executions whereas in the decade leading up to Port Arthur there were 11 mass shootings, which killed 112 people. By 2003, the total number of gun deaths in Australia had dropped from 521 to 289 and gun-related homicides had dropped to one-fifteenth the rate of the US.
The Australian, more than any other paper in the country, champions individual liberty and freedom of choice, but we firmly believe that the right to life is the most fundamental freedom and it is clearly jeopardised in the US by the failure to heavily restrict and regulate gun ownership.

Pretty well said.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Education Debate


Julia Gillard has blamed the Howard government for Australia slipping on the international league table of student outcomes.
Blame is a waste of time, but I’m feeling encouraged simply by the fact that education is where it should be - at the centre of national political debate. If the new government does nothing else, getting it up front is an accomplishment.
Back in the nineties, When Borbridge was in power in Queensland, there was an initiative called “Leading Schools”. It was decided that the best way to improve schools was to make them self managing. Schools were offered extra cash to sign up, and many did, especially high schools. At the same time as this was happening, research was commissioned which was supposed to show that self-managed schools would get better results for students. When the research was completed a few years later, it showed absolutely no correlation between how schools were managed and results for students. What it did show was a strong link between teacher performance and student results. “Leading Schools” was abandoned after two years.
This is a long winded way of showing that the best way of improving results for students is by improving teacher performance. So far, no administration has tackled this, except for the ill-considered notion of performance pay for teachers which has been shown time and again to be counter-productive.
Some suggestions from a teacher since 1968 -
Increase teacher pay by 25% immediately.
Transfer any teacher who has been on the same class or in the same school for more than three years to another teaching posting.
Mandate - by affirmative action - a minimum of 25% male teachers at every school.
Put the best teachers on the most difficult classes.
Fine parents whose children are suspended for bad behaviour - $1000 a throw.
Make TE scores for teachers 5 or better.
Mandate a post graduate qualification for all newly graduating teachers.
Introduce a statewide internship programme, so that graduating teachers spend their last year of training in schools day by day - same as medical graduates.
Provide realistic bonuses for teachers who work in difficult and challenging situations. I’m talking thousands monthly.
Make teacher registration dependent on continuing study - in other words, if you’re not studying, you can’t teach.
The unions would probably accept this conditional on the first suggestion (the pay rise).
I’d give it five years, and you’d see major improvements. Let’s see what Rudd does once the Trojan Horses (the laptops) are sorted.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Not Bread Alone


Now that the dust has settled since last Saturday, commentators are busy drawing conclusions about the state of the national psyche, as revealed by the strong swing away from the Coalition.

Many read much more into the result than it merits – I guess it sells newspapers, but some conclusions can be made. Obviously, my take is based on my view of the world, but I’m also influenced by what I read, what I remember, and my work.

For the first time I can remember in Toowoomba, I had to queue to vote. The message from this is that whichever way people voted, they did it early, and with feeling. The only other time I have seen this phenomenon was in 1972 when I was voting in Brisbane. Linked to the fact that this electorate (Groom – safe Liberal) showed a 10% swing, this meant that change was in the air.

Three of my children are old enough to vote. Of the two that live at home, one voted Green and the other Labor. The son who lives in Adelaide didn't tell me how he voted, but he lives in Kate Ellis' electorate and she was by far the best looking candidate, so I'm making a safe assumption. Whilst not very interested in politics, they all told me that climate change and HECs fees were important issues. In their situations – part time workers and students, it makes sense. Workchoices was also mentioned.

The teachers I work with seemed vehemently opposed to Coalition policy on education – particularly performance pay for teachers. Again, this makes sense. Whilst I don’t generally discuss politics with the parents of the disabled children I support, I’ve listened to enough conversations to know that federal policy on disability is held in low opinion – just as is state policy. These people are hurting so much that they take the proverbial baseball bat into the ballot box, and don’t distinguish state from federal.

Amongst all these factors, something else happened which is more difficult to interpret. It’s just possible that a large number of people are bringing moral considerations into their voting intentions. Issues such as treatment of refugees, the AWB scandal, indigenous apology and the war in Iraq backed up like a blocked sewer. On the other hand, the fear factor (whether it was based on national security or economic threats) doesn’t seem to have gained traction for the first time in a long time.

The electorate, at least this time, seems to have concluded that we don’t live on bread alone.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Vox Populi


Apparently we've had a change of government. Generally, it's been accomplished with good humour, a lack of violence and a measure of civility - especially during the concession and acceptance speeches. There have been minor exceptions (see my last post).

We should never take for granted the fact that we live in a mature democracy.

Sorry about the pic - no particular significance - it just caught my eye. My own electorate (Groom) showed a 10.5% swing to the ALP. It's gone from being safe Coalition to being on the verge of marginal. There must have been a mood for change for this to happen in conservative Toowoomba.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Reduced to This


The rich vein of racism that lurks below the skin of Australian politics has been tapped again - this time in a "boys own" stunt in Lindsay (Western Sydney). I'm less outraged than saddened that it's obviously still out there ripe for the picking. This country won't have come of age as a fully developed democracy until it's gone. I doubt I'll see it in my lifetime.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Some Mothers Do Have Em


A short time ago, I was driving my daughter to work at about 8am. As we passed a nearby park which has a lake in it, she said "Dad, why is that car in the Lake?"
Sure enough, a grotty looking Falcon ute was parked well towards the middle of the lake, a good thirty metres from the bank. The water wasn't deep, (about 750mm) but the shirtless driver was frantically trying to rescue a tool kit stored in the tray. What I couldn't understand at first glance was where it came from, as the direction it was facing didn't make any sense in terms of the surrounding roads. I also noticed a Toyota Camry parked near a service station with a disgruntled looking driver examining the front bumper which was partly detached.
I pulled up, and called out to the bloke in the lake "Are you OK?"
He completely ignored me, and continued to try to remove the tool kit from the tray. This was presenting him with a problem, as the bottom of the lake was muddy and slippery.
Another passer-by had seen the incident, and explained to me that this fellow had accelerated out of a nearby service station at high speed, straight into the Camry which was driving by at the time. It then took off in reverse, hit a 60km sign and continued into the lake. It narrowly missed a couple of kids walking along the footpath.
He didn't know why.
The police and emergency services arrived, and we went on our way.
The report in the local paper the next day explained the "why".
He had filled up at the service station and drove off without paying. He then ran into the Camry, and attempted to leave the scene at speed - backwards. He lost control and went lakewards. The police threw the book at him.
I snapped the shot with my mobile.
I don't know what he was smoking.............

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Memories......


Some of the more senior of us have long memories. We remember John Howard’s performance as Treasurer. .

The example of Whitlam’s economic woes as an argument against trusting Labor with the economy has become a feature on many conservative blogs – so it is valid to talk about Howard’s history.

The Stone Report provides an interesting perspective.

It was commissioned by Bob Hawke the day after he took power in 1983, and authored by John Stone, Treasury Undersecretary. Inter Alia; it reported unemployment of 11%, inflation at 11%, interest rates of 22% and a deficit of $9.6 Billion in 1983 dollars. This $9.6 billion deficit is more than $40 billion in today's terms.

John Howard was Treasurer at the time. Stone characterised his record as the "worst economic performance since the end of WW2" with the Budget deficit "unprecedented in peace time at 6% of GDP".

During Howard's tenure as Treasurer, the 90-day cash rate peaked at 21% on 8 April 1982 while home loan mortgage rates were capped at 13.5%, and inflation peaked at 12.5% in September 1982. Peter Costello commented, in 2007, that "The Howard treasurership was not a success in terms of interest rates and inflation... he had not been a great reformer."

This little piece of history shows that Howard's line that the Liberals are always better economic managers is nonsense. Much of the strength of the Australian economy today is because Labor under Hawke and Keating had the courage to reform, something that the Liberals lacked...

The judgment of every economist and international financial institution is that the restructuring reforms undertaken by the Hawke government with the full co-operation of the trade union movement created the strength of the Australian economy today.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Featured Column - "Blind to the Greatest Threats"

This week's featured column is from The Weekend Australian. The author is Cameron Stewart. It's long, but very interesting - stick with it.

One wonders what sort of reception British security ana­lyst Chris Abbott will receive when he stands up in front of an Australian Federal Police conference next week to espouse his provocative thesis on national security.

Abbott's beliefs fall well outside the mainstream of national security debate in this country. But with the war against Islamist terrorists in trouble on many levels, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty has invited Abbott to Australia, believing his alternative views are worth hear­ing.

The central premise of Abbott, a researcher with independent British think tank the Oxford Research Group, is that terrorism is not the greatest threat to world security and that it is distracting the West from other, much greater, threats to security. These include climate change, competition for scarce re­sources, marginalised populations and the trend towards militarisation.

He advocates talking with terror­ists, reducing use of fossil fuels, quitting Iraq and adopting fresh, non-military, long-term strategies to help improve global security. "We are looking at a very unstable global system by the middle of the century unless something is done quickly," Abbott tells Inquirer. Abbott is program co-coordinator with the Oxford group specialising in global security research. He was previously a campaigner and re­searcher on a range of social and environmental issues.

He argues that the war on terror has been too reactive and that the West has failed to tackle sufficiently the issue of why present terrorism happens. "We are trying to propose a new system, which focuses on preventative rather than reactive policies and addresses some of the root causes of terrorism." This includes "address­ing legitimate political grievances and aspirations of marginal groups" and, controversially, "dialogue with terrorist leaderships".

Abbott is aware that such proposals are a challenge to mainstream thinking on national security that say you must never talk with terrorist leaders lest you be seen to legitimise their anarchic, violent crusade. "We are sometimes wrongly ac­cused of being apologists, but if you want to stop terrorism you have to understand it in order to help prevent it" he says. "We are not saying that terrorism is caused by foreign policy but we are saying some foreign polices are exacerbating it."

Abbott, co-author of a recent Oxford Research Group study, Be­yond Terror: The Truth about the Real Threats to the World argues that since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the West including Australia, has relied too heavily on military force as a means of combat­ing terrorism. He says the failure of securing peace in Iraq and the revival of the Taliban in Afghanistan offer proof that the military-led approach to combating global terror is failing.

But his solutions are vague and necessarily long-term. He calls on Western governments to combat the problem of marginalisation of Muslims, including income inequality and political exclusion. "Policies will need to go beyond traditional methods of counter-terrorism to incorporate a wide range of conflict prevention and resolution methods," he says. But what about research, such as that by US author Robert Pape, showing many suicide bombers are well-educated, middle-class men with many opportunities and op­tions? "We are not talking only about economic marginalisation," Abbott says. "The link between poverty and terrorism is tenuous at best. We are talking about political and social marginalisation." It is Abbott's research on climate change that is believed to have attracted Keelty's attention.

Abbott's Oxford Research Group study found that climate change threatens to have more profound security implications than is com­monly believed. "Climate change will result in the displacement of peoples, severe nat­ural disasters and food shortages, leading to much higher levels of migration, increased human suffer­ing and greater social unrest," the study says. "This has long-term security implications for all coun­tries, which are far more serious, lasting and destructive than those of international terrorism."

Keelty does not disagree. In a provocative speech given in Adelaide in late September, the AFP chief described climate change as "the security issue of the 21st century" and one that could create climate refugees "in their millions". Law enforcement agencies would struggle to cope with global warm­ing's "potential to wreak havoc, cause more deaths and pose national security issues like we've never seen before", Keelty said. His comments were played down by Prime Minister John Howard, who said terrorism remained the biggest threat.

"Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are far more immediate threats to Australia than the mass movement of people from China as a result of water shortage," Howard said. "But I don't think it's a question of an either-or." Yet Abbott does think, to some, extent it is a question of either-or. He believes the focus on military responses to terrorism has blinded governments to the need for long-term, alternative, non-military solu­tions and that time is running out. "Unless urgent, coordinated ac­tion is taken in the next five to 10 years on all these issues, it will become almost impossible to avoid the earth becoming a highly unstable place by the middle years of this century," he says.

Abbott's study says the present militaristic approach to fighting ter­ror in Iraq and Afghanistan has increased, rather than decreased, the likelihood of terror attacks. Rather than try to fight extremists in their homelands, Abbott advocates a coordinated assault on terrorism funding to rob groups such as al Qa'ida of the ability to carry out big attacks. He proposes a new system of "sustainable security" as a means of tackling what he sees as the four main security threats.

To ease competition over scarce resources, especially oil, Abbott says there needs to be greater energy efficiency, recycling, resource man­agement and large-scale funding for alternatives to oil. On climate change he calls for carbon taxes and the rapid replace­ment of carbon-based energy sources with local renewable resources. On the issue of marginalisation his remedies are similar to those of"', anti-poverty campaigners such as Bono: reform global systems of aid, trade and debt relief, and make poverty a world priority.

With militarisation, Abbott calls for greater disarmament and bans on the development of nuclear and bio weapons. They are ideas that tradi­tionally have been championed by the Left, but they will be dismissed by conservatives as unrealistic, unworkable and, in some cases, such as talking with terrorists, counterpro­ductive. South African archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu says.

The group's study is useful as a means of refocusing the security debate. "It penetrates beneath the surface of the "debate in the West over its security to demonstrate that the real threat to global peace and stability lies in our 'failure to recognise our interference, that the wellbeing of the
privileged depends on the well-being of the marginalised."

Chris Abbott will speak at the AFP conference International Policing Toward 2020 in Canberra, which runs next Monday to Wednesday.

I don't agree with everything Abbott says, but his ideas are refreshing and they open up the debate.


Friday, 16 November 2007

Don't Mention the War


A scan of Today’s Oz reveals very little news about the situation in Iraq.

On page 12, there is a report about the Iraqi army’s seizure of a Sunni clerical group’s headquarters. Hidden in this report is a brief reference to a friendly fire incident in which dozens of Sunni’s, part of a group recruited by the US, were killed by these same US forces. No actual casualty figures were given.

When this report is cross-referenced against statistics posted by Iraq Body Count (http://www.iraqbodycount.org), it correlates with a report of an incident in Tarmiya where up to 45 Sunni Awakening Council members reported mistakenly killed in US air and ground attack.

This is interesting in the sense that there has been a lot of commentary about a perception that the media only reports the bad news – not in this case apparently.

Another observation I’d make about Iraq is that neither of the major political parties are prepared to let the war become an issue in the campaign. I’d suggest that there are two very different reasons for this.

In the case of the coalition, there are two many possible negative associations ranging from the mythical WMDs to the AWB scandal. In addition, many surveys have shown that the war is not popular with Australians. The coalition’s strategists have obviously concluded that any gains to be made trading on their apparent ownership of the national security issue could be lost through these negatives.

In the case of Labor, there is a reluctance to be involved because of the risk of being wedged on national security.

It’s a sad commentary on our nationhood when the fact our servicemen are risking their lives daily in Iraq doesn’t rate as an election issue.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Wage Restraint?



Wage Restraint?

Today I read a report which looked at executive salaries in Australia. During the last twelve months, they have risen an average of 28%. Taken across a week, this constitutes an increase of $11000 for these people.

These executives are presumably the same characters who are keen to move their employees on to AWAs, which will decrease their take home pay.

Two things concern me about this. One is that we now have a corporate culture where this is considered OK. The other is that the Australian concept of a “fair go” seems to have gone completely out the window.

It’s also interesting to conjecture where this sits amongst calls for restraint for wage earners in terms of threats from inflation, and dire warnings from coalition pollies about wage breakouts under Labor.

I guess if you earn as much as some of these individuals you develop the idea that you’re somehow special and conventional considerations don’t apply.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sunday's Feature - " Workers Exploited"



Today's feature is an article by Edmund Burke in the Sunday Mail.

Labour-hire companies have been accused of exploiting Asian backpackers employed to pick fruit in southeast Queensland.
An investigation by the Queensland Workplace Rights Ombudsman has produced allegations of below-award wages. It also heard claims that up to 16 workers were charged rent of $80 a week each to share a four-bedroom house.
Ombudsman Don Brown has targeted two contractors in the Lockyer Valley, about 90km west of Brisbane — Gatton Harvesting Pry Ltd and Basil Harvesting Pty, Ltd — for underpaying workers.
"Both of those companies ... are owned and operated by expat Koreans and employ large numbers of Korean back¬packers," Mr Brown said.
He said it was possible the companies erred because of confusion surrounding Work-Choices, and acknowledged a shortage of local fruit-pickers.
But "I received complaints from local workers that they were not able to get work in the industry. It is cheaper... to hire backpackers because they have to pay to use their buses and accommodation", he said.
Gatton Harvesting owner Brian Kim said he paid workers $16.25 an hour by mistake when he should have been paying the federal rate of $16.90: "I did not know that we had the award wrong."
Ju Hwang of Basil Harvesting said her company had been paying $15.50, but would change to the award rate.
Pay slips seen by The Sunday Mail on Friday indicated workers were still being paid $15.50.
Ms Hwang said she was negotiating with farmers to let her pay correct wages: "It is a tough time for farmers here, and sometimes they do not pay us until one year after the work is done. We cannot pay our workers unless we are paid."
The ombudsman investigation also unearthed claims of overcrowded accommodation. Most of the Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese backpackers live at Carton's caravan park, but others pay extra to live in houses. Mr Kim owns two in Gatton which house casual workers, who can extend working holiday visas by a year if they work on a farm for at least 88 days.
At one home on Friday, Korean woman Lee Han Saem, 31, said she shared the five-bedroom house with 10 others. There were many shoes at the door of Mr Kim's other five-bedroom house, but the Korean tenants refused to discuss work.
Under council regulations, residential houses with more than three boarders must follow special rules.
"I will be supplying a list of the properties allegedly involved in accommodating the backpacker workers to the council for appropriate action," Mr Brown said.

Remembrance Day


This is my tribute for Remembrance Day. It's dedicated to all servicemen and women, but particularly to those who served in Infantry -





Locstat

Each man eases
Pack down, webbing loose
Flares his rationed smoke.
Each man watches
Steel point bamboo stabs
Avoids all other eyes.

Radio hisses
Skipper checks the map
Flicks his compass open
Squints at the scrub
Stink of sweat and fear
Our shared reality

Move now!
The signal curses down the line.
I heave my pack again.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Disarming Iraq


This Saturday’s review is “Disarming Iraq” by Hans Blix. It’s an interesting, if not riveting book by the executive director of UNMOVIC (United Nations’ Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) in the heady days prior to the invasion of Iraq by the Coalition of the Willing in 2003.

It’s a significant read for Australians for two reasons. One is that we are, under the Liberal-National coalition, part of the invasion force. In addition, it’s timely because Blix was in Australia on 7 Nov 2007 to receive the 2007 Sydney Peace Prize.

Blix comes across as very laid-back character with a dry but penetrating wit. He is also a little old-fashioned, as amongst other things, he makes his own bed every morning. Somehow I can’t see George Bush (or Saddam Hussein – when he was alive) doing that.

The text is a little sparse and scholarly – I’m not sure if it translated from the Swedish, but the subject matter is intriguing. He sheds light on the background to the invasion, and the great pressure exerted on his organisation by the most powerful forces on earth.
Some extracts are illuminating –
In a now famous interview, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz said that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were chosen as the rationale for the war for "bureaucratic" reasons, implying that while there were many other reasons, this was the only rationale that could rally broad support in U.S. public opinion and that stood a chance at having appeal outside the U.S. and inside the United Nations. (p 266)
And –
The impression one may get from all this, apart from that of a general skepticism towards inspection not controlled by the U.S. itself, is that influential members of the administration were so rock-solid convinced of the existence of WMDs that inspectors, who had access to all sites in Iraq and who did not report findings of WMDs, appeared to them to be either pursuing their own politics, dishonest or doing less than they claimed to do. These members evidently preferred to believe the tales of Iraqi defectors or shaky intelligence produced by their own means. They do not seem to have been ready—as the inspectors were—to apply critical thinking to their own "evidence" or even for a moment entertain the hypoth¬esis that there were no weapons. (p285)
Generally, anyone with an interest in recent history in the Middle East should read it, not only because it outlines the build-up to the war, but also because it provides a deep insight into the relationships between the figures of power and influence in both the US and the UN.
It’s published by Bloomsbury and I paid $20 Aus.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

KISS Principle


I found this in Crikey.com's "First Dog on the Moon", and think it's both funny and accurate. It distills current coalition spin to its bare essentials -

"We don’t lie about interest rates, but even if we did, it’s not our fault as we are such good economic managers whereas if it had been Labor governing it would be their fault because of the Unions. But it wasn’t so it isn’t."

The $22 Million Dollar Man


At Telstra’s meeting of shareholders yesterday, the board ignored a shareholders vote against a report recommending record bonuses for the management team. CEO Sol Trujillo stands to earn $22 million dollars for his labour in the next financial year.

Chairman Donald McGauchie also refused to reveal the financial and non-financial performance triggers for these bonuses, on the basis of “commercial in-confidence”.

Put simply, the Telstra board has determined that a number of actions are OK –

1. To pay the chief executive $22 million per annum.

2. To refuse to disclose the reasons for this.

3. To ignore the lack of confidence revealed by the vote.

This is the most breathtaking display of corporate arrogance I’ve seen for a long time. It looks as if the dodgy trans-Pacific corporate culture that can live with these processes has spread like a virus to Oz.

It will be interesting to see if there are any future repercussions to the makeup of the board the next time shareholders have a say.


I wouldn't hold out too much hope. The big end of town lives in a moral and ethical dimension all of its own.


Sunday, 4 November 2007

Sunday's Featured Column


Dear Fellow blogger,

In order to inject some predictability into this blog, I've decided to introduce a regular featured column every Sunday. Today's is from Fr Kevin Ryan who writes weekly in the Catholic Leader.

It's entitled "Shocking attitudes not a fair go for all Aussies"

"A few weeks ago, the Minister for Immigration justified a cut back in refugee and migrant numbers from Africa on doubtful grounds. He spoke of them forming gangs in this country. To go further with the fear Pauline Hanson spoke of diseases such as AIDS.

That is enough to send a shudder through most Aussies.

Attitudes like this did work 10 years ago, but not anymore. As a country we have matured to the point where not many fall for such comments. After all, our young people have studied with many non-Anglo Saxons. They socialise with them and marry them. Many of the old barriers are gone.

This country's program for migration has worked well. It's intake of refugees, while it has its weaknesses has settled many families in peace and a reasonable standard of living. We can never overlook the fact that much of our talked-of prosperity is due to the hard work and sacrifices of migrant people over the last 50 or 60 years. Caught as we are in the money cycle, we have overlooked all that foreign workers have brought.

The Australian (10/09/07) tells a story we could think about. It tells the story of a well off New York family that went on a cruise to celebrate a birthday. The writer marveled at the fact their party of 10 remained civil to each other even though they had to make such "big" decisions as to whether they'd eat at the buffet or enjoy a sit-down service.

One night a young boy said "You know. The people on this ship are so nice". It was then he realised the nice people were the workers, housekeepers, cooks, general staff, all of whom were born in foreign countries. The people having fun and making a mess were New Yorkers and those being nice were non-Americans.

This raised the question as to whether foreign workers were bringing in more than labour.
"If we are importing friendliness, does that mean we have a shortage"?

Are we running out of "nice" in the same way we are running out of oil? The cruise workers were working up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week. What was said of those workers can be said of many of our guest workers. They bring hard work, sustainable living, and friendliness to us. They are doing work the native born Australians won't do.

Many of our industries that need intensive, reliable workers survive only because of those allowed here for only a short time. We can think we are doing them a good turn by giving them 457 work visas. Seldom do we think of how risky that is for the visitor. It means that unscrupulous operators can take advantage of them. Many are charged unreasonable sums for sponsorship, lodging and transport. They have little or no health cover and are employed at the whim of the boss and the variations of the weather.

A few weeks ago, a group through no fault of theirs, found themselves out of work in Toowoomba. They faced deportation within a month if work couldn't be found. They would go home with a debt they had no hope of repaying.
We've heard the stories of unsuspecting women being forced into prostitution. Before we criticise the foreign workers who will work we should look at the Australians who prefer welfare to work and there are plenty of them.

Where I live I see the foreign workers ready to go to work at 5.30am, hail, rain or shine. Five hours later I see another group, born in this country, pushing a child in a stroller as they approach the day after the night before.

Farming depends on rain. On a vegetable farm, rain means mud. Recently some workers walked off the job because they had mud on their boots, but the Chinese stayed on. We have many labour intensive industries that depend heavily on workers with the 457 visas.

It's time we asked if they are getting a fair go or are we involved in a dressed up form of slavery."

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Book Review


Because I've been traveling again in the course of my work, I've had time to read. This might sound a bit Irish - but evenings in a motel in the bush allow time - given the quality of what's on television.
I've just finished "Vietnam - The Australian War" by Paul Ham, released about a week ago. I couldn't put it down, and it's inspired me to write a brief review. - so here goes -
Few authors on the subject are as comprehensive in their research. One of Ham’s strengths is that he interviewed an enormous range of people from all aspects of the conflict. He publishes their comments providing a brief context, and generally lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions.
He is even-handed, in the sense that he shows no unwarranted respect for any traditional sacred cows. What seems to outrage him above all else is hypocrisy. He shows no mercy to many of the American commanders, and some of the Australian brass. He shows great respect and compassion for the fighting soldiers.
He provides interesting contextual positioning. Ham takes the time to present an historical context. This is often neglected by other writers on the subject, and without it, particularly in reference to Vietnamese history; much of the narrative of the “American” war is meaningless.
The book displays great scope and span. There isn’t much he neglects. He covers the Australian, American and Vietnamese perspectives, compares reactions to the war and its aftermath by Nashos and regular soldiers, gets behind the scenes into the political machinations of the day, and pulls all of this material together in a way that is very punchy and readable.
Some extracts – On Nashos returning – “..a unique aspect of the Vietnam War is the collective cruelty of a nation that ordered, with the threat of a two-year jail term, a 20-year-old lad to go to war – then damned him for going”.
- On what some commanders thought of the war – “They saw Australia’s involvement for what it was: a diplomatic gesture rather than a military necessity.
In essence, the troops were being asked to risk their lives to fulfil a diplomatic
courtesy to America.”
- On Agent Orange – “After forty years, one might think a politician would feel, at the very least, a responsibility to acknowledge past mistakes in relation to the chemical poisoning of soldiers. None has done so in Australia”.
- On casualities -
"The human cost of the war, in terms of personal grief and moral degradation, is immeasurable. In our helplessness, we surrender to statistics: 4 320 Australian soldiers dead and about 3,000 wounded; 42 58,193 Americans dead and about 300,000 wounded; 43 220,357 South Vietnamese troops dead or missing in action and 1.17 million wounded; 44 666,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops dead, 45 with the possibility that a third were civilians mistaken for enemy troops or deemed legitimate targets. Of South Vietnamese civilian casualties, about 325,000 were confirmed killed (rising to a million, depending on your source and definition of a 'civilian'), 30 per cent of whom were children younger than 13. In total, an estimated 65,000 North Vietnamese civilians died as a result of US bombing.46 The Viet Cong assassinated 36,725 civilians between 1957 and 1972;47 the North Vietnamese and/or Viet Cong assassinated 166,000 South Vietnamese civilians.48 About three million Vietnamese people are believed to have suffered herbicide poisoning. In total, 3.5 million people died in Vietnam over fifteen years."

This book will probably offend past members of the ant-war movement, politicians of the time on both sides, the American military and some Australian commanders. It won’t offend the troops.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best work on the subject I’ve read. I’d classify it as a “must-read”. If you can’t afford the (steep) $55 hard back version, wait for it to come out in paperback, or to arrive in your local library.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

PECAP



It’s interesting to read the nonsense on many of the redneck blogs about “unfair” support for minorities.

One minority often neglected are people who live in remote and rural communities. For years, the schools in these communities have been supported by PECAP (Priority Educational Country Area Program). Years ago in Mount Isa, I was responsible (in the Social Justice portfolio in the North West Region) for this program. School communities wrote submissions which were approved by local PECAP committees. I remember being amazed at the efficient and innovative ways in which the money was used to support bush kids.

The parents of these kids pay the same taxes as everyone else, but out here they rarely receive anywhere near the same services.

One common strategy is the leasing or purchase of small buses used to conquer the vast distances. These buses are often shared by a cluster of small schools. In this case, the bus illustrated was used to carry a whole school (15 kids) into a neighbouring larger centre to spend a week at a swimming camp. Because there’s nowhere to swim in their isolated township, these kids would otherwise miss out on the “Learn-to- Swim” program available to others.

This way they concentrate a semester’s swimming into one week. Given that temperatures are already into the 40s out here, it’s a pleasant way to spend a week.

And it’s also Social Justice in action.

Far Out


My work this week takes me as far West as Quilpie. If you continue from here you encounter Windorah, Betoota and Birdsville. After that, you run out of “civilisation” and Queensland more or less simultaneously.

I’ve been to Windorah and Birdsville before (Windorah by light aircraft and Birdsville overland), but this is my first visit to Quilpie.

There was a dust storm when I arrived, which soon became mud and then rain. The locals were very pleased to see this – I think about 10mls was the result. I told them I always bring rain, so they are demanding regular visits.

It’s a pleasant outpost, even if daytime temperatures are in the high 30s/low 40s. It reminds me of Mount Isa in that most of what is required is available – it just takes so long to get here.

By night the sky is gloriously clear after the rain – it was worth the trip just to look at the starscape. Tomorrow I head back East to election campaigns etc. It’s saner out here.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Stirring


Dear fellow blogger,

Blogging is great fun and it can also be educational. I’ve learnt something about it this week.

Occasionally I post a comment designed to stimulate discussion on blogs that hold no appeal except for their capacity for the authors to over react. Generally, this generates insults and abuse, and in the case of the more extreme, threats.

There's a very Australian term for this.

This week I posted to a blog called “A Western Heart”, and had the temerity to disagree with some of the extreme ideas canvassed. After the usual reaction, consisting of ridicule, aspersions being cast on my sexuality, and threats of violence, one of the group posting asked what my blog title meant. When I explained that it was my army number, I was challenged to say what my service had been. I hastened to oblige, but found that my comments were no longer being posted.

The lesson, I guess, is that for these bloggers, any opinion is OK so long as it agrees with theirs.

Can I suggest you post to AWH, express a few contrary opinions and see how you fare? You’ll find that as soon as your views start to resonate, you’ll be turfed out.

It’s difficult to tell what these people stand for by reading their blogs. Whatever it is – it’s obviously not freedom of speech.

If you want to have some fun, post to - http://awesternheart.blogspot.com/index.html

and make sure you say something rational. You won’t last long.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Such Excitement...........


Our local tabloid, the Toowoomba Chronicle, generally features stories of local lads and lasses who have done well, school reunions, and local politics (very conservative).

Not a lot happens in town, but when something a bit sensational occurs, The Chronicle sometimes gets a bit over-excited. On Wednesday night, a local policemen shot an individual who was throwing knives at him. This individual is now in hospital in Brisbane.

Today’s edition has blanket coverage – A front page story “Officer Shoots Violent Attacker”, two more on page 2 – “Major has Total Faith in Officer” and “Unexpected Shooting Will Touch Lives of Many People” and another two on page 3 – “Police Support Decision to Fire” and “Neighbours in State of Shock” – 5 stories in all. In this last story there is reference to the neighbours’ dogs (who did not comment).

There is also an Editorial “Shooting at Gatton”, in which Steve Etwell, provides a prĂ©cis of all the other stories.

I am accustomed to this now, having lived here since 1996. I think the full understanding came after an incident in 1998. I was at school one Thursday morning when I received a call from one of my teachers who had been involved in an accident on the way to work.

He was OK, and wanted to get to work, but his car was wrecked, so I drove the few blocks to collect him. The accident was at a major intersection, and emergency service vehicles were blocking the intersection, so I parked in a side street.

As I alighted from the car, an elderly woman, in her nightie and with blue hair, abused me roundly saying “How dare you park in front of my house on a Thursday morning?”
She was worried that her wheelie bin wouldn’t be collected.

I explained that I was avoiding the accident, and wasn’t planning to be there for more than a minute. As soon as I said “accident”, her eyes lit up and she set of for the intersection at a brisk trot.

Not a lot happens, so when it does, people get very excited.

Monday, 22 October 2007

A Rum Tale


Am I the only one who sees some irony in the following?

One of the major sponsors of the Australian Rugby League, Bundaberg Rum, has made a complaint against the Chairman, Peter McGrath. They claim he was drunk when he joined a group of sponsors' representatives on the eve of the Wallabies' quarter-final loss to England. McGrath has denied the charge, but has stood aside voluntarily until an investigation is completed.

Isn’t it passing strange that a liquor company has made a complaint against an official for drunkenness?

Weird stuff!

Pork



Dear Fellow Blogger,

As we approach the 24th November, the pork barrel is being well and truly raided. Most recently, we have a promise of tax cuts.

I have a few problems with this. On past performances, any gains to Joe Average through these cuts will be eaten up almost immediately by the inevitable rise in interest rates that will follow once the flow-through effect takes hold. From that point of view, the tax cuts are simply stupid.

A more compelling reason to reject the idea of tax cuts is that we live in a wealthy country that is in dire need of improved infrastructure, particularly in the area of health and dental services for the elderly, and this simply isn’t going to happen if the money is consumed by tax cuts.

There is only one reason for these promises and that reason has most to do with political expediency. Unfortunately both major parties have made very similar porky promises.

It’s time they listened to Australia’s Catholic Bishops. Below is an extract from their statement of August 7th –

“Catholic tradition holds that the common good is underpinned by the promotion and protection of human dignity. Implicit in seeking the common good is the desire to serve the poor, the marginalized, the sick and forgotten in our society.

Political philosophies will address these challenges differently, but substantial action is required if these principles are to be made realities”.

I can’t see much evidence of this kind of action from either of the two major parties. No doubt selfishness will win, and we’ll have to live with the consequences.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics





I’ve found some stats I was chasing about Workchoices – it’s difficult at the moment as I travelling and working and have limited time and web access.

The point I am making is not to deny that unemployment is trending down, and engagement in the labour force is trending up, but to point out that these simple statistics have to be used in a comparative way to establish that Workchoices has had an effect.

If you look at the images, available on the Principle Labour Force Series Trend Estimates page of the ABS website you will see –

The first graph shows the unemployment rate. You will notice that it’s pretty uniform with the exception of 1999 – 2001. As I understand it, Workchoices took effect in May 2006. If its introduction has had a major effect, you would expect to see a major downward blip in the graph starting at about May 2006, and continuing until the present. It’s not evident. The average trend continues.
The upward blip in 2001 is interesting. Who was in power then?
The second graph is employment (engagement) for the same period. Again, you would expect to see a blip if Workchoices had helped. Again, it’s not there. The trend is remarkably consistent.

The best that Joe Hockey can say is that Workchoices has maintained the positive Labour Force trends. It’s not had a major effect.

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